Monday, July 30, 2012

The Expeditionary... Army

The cold war is over and the wars in southwest Asia are ending, so the Army is making moves as it prepares for the future. The New York Times has a few of the details.
Plans call for the brigade-size stock of armored fighting vehicles now stored in Europe to be brought home, although other infantry and support equipment would remain. A primary mission for the gear to be stored in Europe would be to supply multilateral training exercises among American and allied troops.

The Army wants to locate sets of equipment that could be pulled from storage for multilateral training exercises and other contingencies in the Asia-Pacific region, most likely aboard ships and perhaps in Australia, officials say. Other Army storage sites around the world may see an increase in gear designed for humanitarian assistance and disaster relief.

The Army emptied many of its overseas weapons warehouses to fight the wars of the past decade and is using the end of combat in Iraq and the drawdown in Afghanistan to analyze where the gear — officially called Army prepositioned stocks — should be located, and exactly what types of equipment should be included to carry out the shifting Army mission. 
This is noteworthy.
The Army is planning for a significant portion of the prepositioned stocks to be afloat, an effort that would include eight ships. Two vessels would be dedicated to munitions, with one assigned to the Pacific and one to the Middle East.

The other six ships, which could be sailed to conflict zones as required, would carry equipment for an infantry brigade with MRAPs, and a sustainment brigade. The vessels would carry equipment necessary for transforming a commercial port into a dock that could load and unload military equipment. 
This accounts for some wargaming as reported by other media sources that has revealed that the Army struggles to get ashore without a fully capable port.

I don't really have much to say on this because right now I am not impressed with the policies that are guiding the US Army towards the future, nor am I very impressed with the transformation plans of the US Army is executing heading into 2013. Here is the problem as I see it.

The US Army is organizing around 71 brigade combat teams and 212 support brigades by next year. 43 of those BCTs are in the active component, with the rest in the National Guard. If you look at the Pacific and the Middle East, and you accept that the long range, precision missile threat is the primary threat in both places, then one must ask what becomes a critical function of the US Army in that environment. When I ask these questions, the answer leads me towards the most important capabilities being Air Defense, Airborne, and Air Assault.

The future active duty Army is expected to be 15 Armored Brigade Combat Teams, 8 Stryker Brigade Combat Teams, 10 Infantry Brigade Combat Teams (light), 6 Infantry Brigade Combat Teams (Airborne), and 4 Infantry Brigade Combat Teams (Air Assault) for a total of 43 active duty Brigade Combat Teams. When I look at the first month of the next big war, without another nation successfully contributing significant force, only 10 of these Brigade Combat Teams are relevant in the first 60-90 days of the conflict (the 6 Airborne and 4 Air Assault) and nearly every bit of the Army's underfunded and low priority yet critical air mobility defense assets will be dedicated to those 10 brigade combat teams, and fixed locations necessary for the US Army to transit to the battle zone.

In other words, in my opinion the US Army is basically being structured to fight the next war exactly like the last war in Iraq with 15 Armored BCTs, 8 Stryker BCTs, and 10 Infantry BCTs that cannot enter the fight without counting on Saddam Hussein level of incompetence that allows for an Army buildup to occur, or more likely, a fully manned and equipped Marine Corps with enough ships to kick down the door - which for the record isn't something that will organize and happen any quicker than 60-90 days.

What strategic genius it is to pay homage to the parity of the DoD iron triangle when 75% of the standing, active duty US Army has to operate on Navy time to join the next war of significance. Tell me again why the major assets of the US Army, which will take 60-90 days to put in place under ideal conditions anyway, is in the Active Duty Army and not the Reserves? The US Army force structure organizational chart is written to insure the US Army is important to the US Army, but in general it really doesn't do anything meaningful for the nation.

When one looks at the size of an Army one needs for 21st century in both war and peace, it becomes clear the United States needs the US Army sized to at least 100 BCTs - roughly 30% larger than current plans. Yes, that means the Army will need to be bigger, and thus be more expensive to maintain, but I also think it is fairly obvious that only 25 of those BCTs are needed in the active duty force and the rest could be moved to the Reserves without any loss of options for the President of the United States in using the US Army.

The US Army reinvented itself for the war in Iraq in 2005, and reinvented itself again in 2009 in Afghanistan - and bought completely new gear both times specific to each conflict. This isn't new, the Army did the same thing in Vietnam and WWII. Relative to the Navy and Air Force, the US Army can be raised and reinvented very quickly when the money for war is provided.

However, all the money in the world isn't going to help industry invent new ships or aircraft faster, much less allow either service to reinvent themselves in the next war. For the Air Force and Navy, what you have when the conflict starts will likely be all you will have to decide conflict. This theory of naval war was true for WWII, if you believe the results of Midway decided the conflict at sea in the Pacific.

Why rant on all of this based on a news report on prepositioning forces? Because, all of these topics should be discussion points for the upcoming debate of consequence facing the DoD over the next 5-10 years - the recapitalization of the DoD following the conclusion of two wars in southwest Asia.

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